03 January 2013

Aki Onda's Latest Instalment of his Cassette Memories: A Not-Quite-A Review

A Review of Cassette Memories Volume 3: South Of The Border

When listening to Aki Onda's latest missive of his ongoing career-spanning project, which he simply calls them his Cassette Memories, it struck me on a few accounts. First, being the choice of his artistic medium, cassette often in this post-post world of ours, tends to produce a deep sense of nostalgia and perhaps a wee bit of whimsy due to the tagging of the format to a recent bygone era. It is a simple, fragile-looking object which is both mechanical in its operation while magical in its textual content; as it whizzes and rattles in the player, it spools forth sounds and music which help many to lose themselves in their personal dreams, borrowed utopias or simply crass entertainment for the day. But one thing certain is that it is seen today as a anachronistic but somewhat cutesy lifestyle icon (to be printed across retro-themed t-shirts and other assorted home decor) to either display one's hipness in taste as well as/or alternatively a trip back to the more innocent days of one's early years. For the former, they were not there when cassettes and walkmans were all the rage and for the latter, it was an emblem of pride which they can both embarassingly but paradoxically display proudly as part of their po-mo lifestyle-choice driven personal curatorial Cornell cabinets.

On the other hand, cassettes has been the main choice of resistance and counter-cultural badge of honour for the bulk of the late 1970s and the 1980s when punks, metalheads, industrial music fans and underground dance fiends used as a form of samizdat-like statements of the subterranean. Due to its association with William S Burroughs and Brion Gysin's tape cut-up experiments and also the musiqye concrete compositions of Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry, cassettes will forever be tied in to the culturally deviant or innovative, depending on your entry point. It was fast to duplicate and easy to distribute and more importantly it was cheap to acquire. It was both an exemplifier of the disposable culture of the emerging post-Fordist economy but yet staking an irreducible memory totem pole for those who have utilitised it for creation and consumption in their various subcultural adventures.

Lastly, which brings us back to the new CD itself is the diaristic property of the cassette. Aki Onda's travels through Mexico in 2005, a country which fascinated him since his younger days due to his various indirect encounters with the country via his father's photographs (who as a national hockey player for Japan who took part in the Mexico Olympic Games in 1968) and the surrealistic and absurdist novel-films of Alejandro Jodorowsky, provided enough sonic materials for him to put together this collection of sound works.

The quality of the recording can be easily and lazily be lumped together with the Hypnagogic/Glo-Fi/Spectral end of things which was all the craze in the underground and experimental scenes just a couple of years ago. But two things set Onda's works apart: Onda's works never give out the wink-wink knowing glances which is so common amongst the former group of artists which can be tiresome due to the fact that it can go across as more of a fashionista-hipster point-scoring then a genuine harnessing of the medium for its inherent strengths and weaknesses to present an earthly beauty with hints of otherworldly vibe of liminality. The last two tracks of the CD, "The Sun Clings To The Earth..." and "I Tell A Story of Bodies..." ooze with much timeless charm with their re-imagined capturing and re-working of the initial sonic sources. Cursorily psychedelic when one first hears it but it slowly grows on the listeners when one begins to see a kaleidoscopic personal vision of this country of two extremes (as described by Onda on his website) which he has successfully immortalised using a medium which is as temporal as one can get amongst all the modern sound mediums.

Frankly, Onda's current work takes a notch up from his two previous volumes (which are more verite in nature and "composition") and one can sense the personal signature of Onda more foregrounded. This is a welcomed creative move which, if you are reading this, should indulge in, soon.

Aki Onda website here.
The CD is released via Important Records.

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